SONGS IN THE NIGHT
By Ocatvius Winslow
"God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night."
It will be acknowledged by all, competent to form an opinion in the matter, that a holy man is from the very necessity of the case a happy man. It is as impossible to separate happiness from holiness, as to separate light from the sun. The introduction of sin opened the door to all wretchedness; the restoration of divine purity closes the door by restoring the Divine image; and the nearer we approximate to the image of God, the more deeply we participate in the happiness of God. Sin is nothing more than a disturbance of the harmony once subsisting between the divine and the human will. Restore that harmony—let the will of God be done on earth as it is done in heaven—and earth will again, as it once did, reflect back the purity of heaven, just as the tranquil lake mirrors from its bosom the image and the splendor of the sun. A saint of God is, then, a happy man. He is often most so when others deem him most miserable. When they, gazing with pity upon his adversities, and his burdens, and silently marking the conflict of thought and feeling passing within—compared with which external trial is but as the bubble floating upon the surface—deem him a fit object of their commiseration and sympathy, even then, there is a hidden spring of joy, an under current of peace lying in the depths of the soul, which renders him, chastened and afflicted though he is, a happy and an enviable man. Worldling! refrain your tears, spare your pity. “Blessed are they that mourn now, for they are, and they shall be, comforted.” “Thus saith the Lord God: behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed: behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall wail for vexation of spirit.” Weep not for him, but, O ye Christless souls! weep for yourselves!
How fully do the words placed at the head of this chapter sustain this train of thought. Midnight harmony! Who can inspire it? Songs in the night! Who can create them? God can, and God does. The “God of all consolation,” the “God who comforteth them that are cast down,” the “God of hope,” who causes the “bright morning star” to rise upon the dreary landscape, the “God of peace, who himself gives peace, always, and by all means;” even he, our Maker and our Redeemer, giveth songs in the night. All music is of God’s inspiration. The lark’s cheerful carol—the nightingale’s plaintive note—an infant’s praise, and the music of the spheres—is the voice of God. There is no instrument whose broken and untuned strings he cannot make discourse sweet strains—even a heart collapsed with grief. And there is no season in the Christian history which he cannot render vocal with a melody to which a seraph might breathlessly listen, from which he might derive new rapture, but which he would imitate in vain. Music, at all times sweet, is the sweetest amidst the sublimity of night. When in the solemn stillness that reigns—not a breath rustling the leaves, and echo herself slumbers,—when in the darkness that enshrouds, the thoughts that agitate, the gloomy phantoms that flit before the fancy, like shadows dancing upon the wall, there breaks upon the wakeful ear the soft notes of skillfully touched instruments, blending with the melting tones of well-tuned voices, it is as though angels had come down to serenade and soothe the sad and jaded sons of earth. But there are songs richer, and there is music sweeter still than theirs,—the songs which God gives, and the music which Jesus inspires in the long dark night of the Christian’s pilgrimage. To this harmony let us now hearken. Three reflections are suggested by the words—The night season,—the songs in the night,—and the author of these night-songs. “God, my Maker, who giveth songs in the night.”
The season referred to by the inspired penman is figurative of the sorrow, gloom, and despondency into which all God’s people are, more or less, brought,—the season of night. Designed though this little work is for the period of Christian solitude and sorrow, it is not improbable that it may find its way into the sick and gloomy chamber of a mind yet more sick and dark. It may not, then, be inappropriate to remark what an expressive image is the season of night of an unconverted state—a state of spiritual darkness and of death. Night is the season of gloom, of slumber, of visions. Such is the moral condition of the soul, unenlightened, unawakened, unsanctified by the Holy Ghost. The apostle touches upon this state, in the contrast which he finely draws between the believer and the unbeliever. “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness, therefore, let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober; for they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.” What a solemn picture this, of an ungodly world, of our unconverted relatives; perhaps, my reader, of thyself. “Children of the night”—asleep—in darkness. Is not the night-season especially the season of dreams? Such is the spiritual night of the soul. Thus graphically is it described by the evangelical prophet Isaiah,—“As when a hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite.” Such is your state. You are asleep; the chains of spiritual slumber bind your moral senses; your plans, your pursuits, your pleasures, your realizations, all are but as the visions that sport around the pillar of night. You imagine you are happy, you fancy liberty in your fetters, substance in your shadows, reality in your visions. But, by and by, you awake to the conviction—O how keen—that all is but a dream! The spirit is restless, the mind is unfed, the heart is sick, the soul is unsatisfied; all, all is one dark and desolate blank. Yes, God will write, yea, God has written, the sentence of death upon the worldling’s enjoyment; and will teach him that all happiness is ideal, and all pleasure is unsubstantial that flows not from himself, and of which he is not the “exceeding joy.” Rouse you, then, from your sleep; the bridegroom is coming! the midnight cry of the approaching judge is about to break upon the slumber and darkness of your soul. It is high time to awake out of sleep. What if the words should startle you amidst your worldliness and folly, your sin and rebellion, your day-dreams of earthly good,—“Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” What if you should awake up in hell! Horror of horrors! Listen to the warning of the Saviour, “What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.” Then, “awake thou that sleepest, arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee life.” Awful, if the present night of your unsanctified sorrow should be the harbinger, the prelude, the forecasting shadows of a future and an endless night of woe!
But this season of night is signally descriptive of some periods in the history and experience of a child of God, and to them we especially restrict it. It reminds us of the period of soul darkness which often times overtakes the Christian pilgrim. “My servant that walketh in darkness and hath no light,” says God. Observe, he is still God’s servant. He is the “child of the light,” though walking in darkness. Gloom spreads its mantle around him—a darkness that may be felt. Shadows thicken upon his path. God’s way with him is in the great deep: “Thou art a God that hidest thyself,” is his mournful prayer. The Holy Spirit is, perhaps, grieved—no visits from Jesus make glad his heart—he is brought in some small degree into the blessed Saviour’s experience: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But, sorrowful pilgrim, there is a bright light in this, your cloud—turn your eye towards it—the darkness through which you are walking is not judicial. It is not the darkness of an unconverted, alienated state. O no! you are still a “child of the day,” though it may be temporary night with your spirit. It is the withdrawment but for “a little moment,”—not the utter and eternal extinction,—of the Sun of Righteousness from your soul. You are still a child, and God is still a Father. “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” “Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still.”
And what are seasons of affliction but as the night-time of the Christian? The night of adversity is often dark, long, and tempestuous. The Lord frequently throws the pall of gloom over the sunniest prospect, touching his loved child where that touch is the keenest felt. He knows the heart’s idol: he is best acquainted with the fowler’s snare—the temptation and the peril lying in our path. He knows better far than we the chain that rivets us to some endangering object; he comes and draws the curtain of night’s sorrow around our way. He sends messenger after messenger. Deep calleth unto deep: He touches us in our family—in our property— in our reputation—in our persons. And O, what a night of woe now spreads its drapery of gloom around us! Then it is—amidst the deepening shades—we seem to take a more dismal view of every object. All things loom in the mist. Our position, our circumstances, our losses, our prospects, all present a more gloomy and discouraging aspect, and assume a more exaggerated and magnified form, viewed in the sombre hues now gathering and darkening around them. It is a “day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains.”
Such, too, is the season of mournful bereavement. What a night is that when the shadow of death falls upon our once bright and joyous tabernacle; when the destroyer enters and lays low some loved object, around which the heart’s affections, perhaps, too closely entwined. It is as though the noonday sun had suddenly become quenched in midnight gloom. “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness,” is the heart’s sad breathing. It was such a night to the heart of Jesus when he left the house of Bethany to go to the grave of Lazarus. Ah! who has not passed through the gloom and the pangs of this season? Who has not seen—the shadows approaching which forewarned of the coming woe? To take our position in the room of suffering, and to watch through the wearisome day and the lonesome night, the slow advance of the fell-destroyer,—to see the light retiring from our ‘pleasant picture,’ and its features of expression and its lines of beauty growing dimmer and fainter, until the shadow of death completely veiled it from our view—what a night of heartache is this! But hush!
“All are not taken! there are left behind
Living beloved, tender looks to bring,
And make the daylight still a blessed thing,
And tender voices, to make soft the wind.
But if it were not so—if I could find
Not love in all the world to answer me,
Nor any pathway but rang hollowly,
Where ‘dust to dust’ the love from life disjoined—
And if with parched lips—as in a dearth
Of water-springs the very deserts claim,—
I uttered to these sepulchres unmoving
The bitter cry, ‘Where are ye, O my loving?’
I know a voice would sound, ‘Daughter, I AM,
Can I suffice for heaven, and not for earth?’”
But dark, and often rayless for a time, as are these various night-seasons of our pilgrimage, they have their harmonies. It is not perfect night, as it is not perfect day with us here. If the day has its dark periods, the night has its bright ones. If the one has its sounds of woe, the other has its notes of melody. There are—provided by him who “divides the light from the darkness”—softenings, alleviations, and soothings, which can even turn night into day, and bring the softest tones from the harshest discord. How humbling is the reflection, that in the depth of the deepest sorrow, the darkness of the darkest shade, we should lose sight of this precious truth. The strong consolations which our God has laid up for them that love him, are so divine, so rich, so varied, that to overlook the provision in the time of our sorrow, seems an act of ingratitude darker even than the sorrow we deplore. O! it is in the heart of God to comfort you, his suffering child. Once convinced of this, and the bitterest ingredient in your cup has become sweet. Let me assist you to the conviction of this truth by directing your attention, perhaps in an hour of dark woe, to some of those “songs” which the Lord enables his people to sing in the night-watches of their journey.
This was pre-eminently David’s experience. Few of the Lord’s saints knew more of the night-travel of faith than this wonderful man of God. Happy shall we be if we study closely his instructive life. After alluding to the “Waves and the billows which had gone over him,” he seems to be suddenly checked in his complainings by the recollection of the night-song: “Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day-time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life,” (Psalm xlii. 8.) Here was midnight harmony! Amidst the “noise of the water-spouts,” and the swellings of “billows”—the midnight of his soul—lo! music rises! A song is sung, such as is not heard in heaven—for there is no night there—it is of kindness, it is of love, yea, it is of loving-kindness, manifested and experienced in the hour,—when sinking amidst deep and dark waters the soul cries out for fear, “Lord, save, I perish!” O what loving-kindness must that be, suffering believer, which inspires a song so sweet, amidst a season so dark as this!
“Awake my soul, in joyful lays,
And sing thy dear Redeemer’s praise;
He justly claims a song from me,
His loving-kindness, O how free!
“When trouble, like a gloomy cloud,
Has gathered thick and thundered loud;
He near my soul has always stood,
His loving-kindness, O how good!”
The Psalmist, too, on another occasion of night-travel fed his drooping faith with the remembrance of songs he had previously sung: “I call to remembrance my song in the night,” (Psalm lxxvii. 6.) It is no small wisdom, tried Christian, to recall to memory the music of the past. Think not that, like sounds of earth-born melody, that music has died away never to awake again. Ah, no! those strains which once floated from your spirit-touched lips, yet live! The music of a holy heart never dies; it lingers still amid the secret chambers of the soul. Hushed it may be for awhile, by other and discordant sounds, but the Holy Spirit, the Christian’s Divine Remembrancer, will summon back those tones again, to soothe and tranquilize and cheer, perhaps in a darker hour and in richer strains, some succeeding night of heart-grief. “I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night-watches.” “Restore unto me the joys of thy salvation.”
Yet again: “At midnight I will arise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments,” (Ps. cxix. 62.) At midnight—the most lonely, rayless, desolate hour. ‘When other hearts of sympathy are hushed to rest; when all the world seems dead to me, wrapt in profound unconsciousness of my silent vigils, in the midnight of my soul’s deep grief I will arise from my pillow, moist with tears, and from my couch, worn with my tossings, and will give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments.’ O what midnight harmony, beloved, is this! The blessed spirits of another world are hearkening: God bows down his ear and listens. Ah! my reader, there is not a single midnight of your history—never so dark as that midnight may be—for which God has not provided you a song, and in which there may not be such music as human hand never awoke, and as human lip never breathed—the music that God only can create. But what are some of the materials—the chords and notes—of these songs in the night? Begin we with the key-note.
Jesus himself is our song. If we cannot sing of Jesus and of his love in the night of our pilgrimage, of what, of whom, then, can sing? As all music has its ground-work—its elementary principles—so has the music of the believing soul. Jesus is the basis. He who knows nothing experimentally of Jesus, has never learned to sing the Lord’s song. But the believer, when he contemplates Jesus in his personal dignity, glory, and beauty—when he regards him as God’s equal—when he views him as the Father’s gift—as the great depositary of all the fulness of God, can sing in the dark night of his conscious sinfulness, of a foundation upon which he may securely build for eternity. And when, too, he studies the work of Jesus, what material for a song is gathered here! when he contemplates Christ as “made of God unto him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption;” when he views the atoning blood and righteousness which presents him moment by moment before God, washed from every stain, and justified from every sin, even now, in the night-season of his soul’s deep depravity, he can sing the first notes of the song they chaunt in higher strains above: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen.” O! yes, Jesus is the key-note—Jesus is the ground-work of our midnight harmony.
Is it a season of heart-ploughing, of breaking up of the fallow ground, of deeper discovery of the concealed plague? Still to turn the eye of faith on Jesus, and contemplate the efficacy of his blood to remove all sin, and the power of his grace to subdue all iniquity, O what music in the sad heart does that sight of him create! “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
Is it a night of sorrowful affliction? What a friend, what a brother, what a helper is Jesus! Never, no never, does he leave his suffering one to travel that night unvisited, unsoothed by his presence. He is with you now, and of his faithfulness that never falters, of his love that never changes, of his tenderness that never lessens, of his patience that never wearies, of his grace that never decays, of his watchfulness that never slumbers, you may sing in the storm-night of your grief. Fix your eye, dim with weeping though it be, upon this touching picture of your sympathizing Lord thus presented to your view: “The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” Think you there were no songs on that dark tempestuous night? Did no music rise from that storm-tossed vessel, and swell above the moaning of the sea? Ah, yes, beloved! Jesus was there! And Jesus gave the key-note: “It is I; be not afraid!” And then rose the music of faith and love from the lips of his transported apostle: “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee, on the water.” Trembling believer! Jesus had been all that night in earnest, wrestling prayer for those loved disciples; and when their peril and fear were at their height, he hastened to their rescue and their comfort, treading the limpid wave with all the majesty and the firmness of a God. Jesus loves to visit us in our night-watches. Jesus is praying for us when in the storm. The incarnate God delights to be near his helpless and timid saints: and he is near—yes, near to you—the strength of your fainting heart, the support of your sinking soul; and you “shall have a song as in the night, when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty one of Israel.”
Is it the night of bereavement? Ah, heavy as that night is, there is a song even for it, smitten, weeping soul. Jesus was bereaved. Can you not sing of this? “Jesus wept.” Is there no melody in these words? O yes! As one, who himself knew and felt the blank which death creates in human friendship: as one, whose tears once fell upon the cold clay, while no hand was outstretched to wipe them, he sympathizes with your present sorrow, and is prepared to make it all his own. Wide as is the chasm, deep as is the void, mournful as is the blank which death has created, Christ can fill it; and filling it with his love, with his presence, with himself, how sweet will be your song in the night of your sorrow,—“He hath done all things well.” O there is not a single hour of the long night of our woe, but if we turn and rest in Jesus, we shall find material for a hymn of praise, such as seraphs cannot sing.
Nor must we pass by David’s sweet song in the dark night of his domestic calamity and grief: “Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he maketh it not to grow,” (2 Sam. xxiii. 6.) The everlasting covenant which God has made with Jesus, and through Jesus with all his beloved people, individually, is a strong ground of consolation amidst the tremblings of human hope, the fluctuations of creature things, and the instability of all that earth calls good. The Word of God meets the peculiar sorrow of domestic calamity with especial tenderness. David was tried in his children—how deep that trial was, few of us may know. But the covenant was enough for it; it was a covenant ordered in all things, and sure: and this was his song in the night.
And of this same covenant, O sorrowful child of the covenant, you too may sing: The God of the covenant is your God, your Father, your unchangeable Friend. What though domestic calamity enshrouds your spirit as with midnight gloom—the covenant in which your name is written, and your sorrow appointed, and your consolation provided, and your steps ordered, sheds its mild lustre upon your way, and bids you sing in the night-time of your grief,—
“Since thou, the everlasting God,
My Father art become;
Jesus, my guardian and my friend,
And heaven my final home:
“I welcome all thy sovereign will;
For all that will is love:
And when I know not what thou dost,
I wait the light above.
“Thy covenant in the darkest gloom
Shall heavenly rays impart,
Which, my eyelids close in death,
Shall warm my chilling heart.”
And who gives these songs in the night? “God our Maker.” Who but God could give them? No saint on earth, no angel in heaven, has power to tune our hearts to a single note of praise in the hour of their grief. No, nor could any creature above or below breathe a word of comfort, of hope, or of succor, when heart and flesh were failing. Who but the incarnate God has power enough, or love enough, or sympathy enough to come and embosom himself in our very circumstances—to enter into the very heart of our sorrow—to go down into the deepest depth of our woe, and strike a chord there that, responding to his touch, shall send forth a more than angel’s music? It is God who gives these songs. He is acquainted with your sorrows: he regards your night of weeping: he knows the way that you take. He may be lost to your view, but you cannot he lost to his. The darkness of your night-grief may veil him from your eye, but the “darkness and the light are both alike to him.” Then repair to him for your song. Ask him so to sanctify your sorrow by his grace, and so to comfort it by his Spirit, and so to glorify himself in your patient endurance of it, and so to make you to know the wherefore of your trial, and your trial so to answer the mission on which it was sent, as will enable you to raise this note of praise: “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent.”
In giving you a throne of grace, God has given you a song, methinks one of the sweetest ever sung in the house of our pilgrimage. To feel that we have a God who hears and answers prayer,—who has done so in countless instances, and is prepared still to give us at all times an audience—O! the unutterable blessedness of this truth. Sing aloud then, ye sorrowful saints, for great and precious is your privilege of communion with God. In the night of your every grief and trial and difficulty, forget not that, in your lowest frame, you may sing this song, “Having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, I will draw near, and pour out my heart to God.” Chaunt, then, his high praises as you pass along, that there is a place where you may disclose every want, repose every sorrow, deposit every burden, breathe every sigh, and lose yourself in communion with God—that place is the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, of which God says, “There will I meet with thee, and I will commune with thee.”
Ah! but perhaps you exclaim, “Would that I could sing! I can weep, and moan, and even trust, but I cannot rejoice.” Yes, but there is One who can give even you, beloved, a song in the night. Place your harp in his hands, all broken and unstrung as it is, and he will repair and retune it; and then, breathing upon it his Spirit, and touching it with his own gentle hand, that heart that was so sad and joyless shall yet sing the high praises of its God. How much of God’s greatness and glory in nature is concealed until the night reveals it! The sun is withdrawn, twilight disappears, and darkness robes the earth. Then appears the brilliant firmament, studded and glowing with myriads of constellations. O the indescribable wonder, the surpassing glory, of that scene! But it was the darkness that brought it all to view. Thus it is in the Christian’s life. How much of God would be unseen, how much of his glory concealed, how little should we know of Jesus, but for the night-season of mental darkness and of heart sorrow. The sun that shone so cheeringly has set; the gray twilight that looked so pensively has disappeared; and just as the night of woe set in, filling you with trembling, with anxiety, and with fear, lo! a scene of overpowering grandeur suddenly bursts upon the astonished eye of your faith. The glory of God as your Father, has appeared—the character of Jesus as a loving tender brother, has unfolded—the Spirit as a Comforter, has whispered—your interest in the great redemption has been revealed—and a new earth redolent with a thousand sweets, and a new heaven resplendent with countless suns, has floated before your view. It was the darkness of your night of sorrow that made visible all this wonder and all this glory: and but for that sorrow how little would you have known of it. “I will sing of mercy and of judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.”
Suffering, sorrowful believer! pluck your harp from your willow, and with the hand of faith and love sweep it to the high praises of your God. Praise him for himself—praise him for Jesus—praise him for conversion—praise him for joys—praise him for sorrows—praise him for chastenings—praise him for the hope of glory—O praise him for all! Thus singing the Lord’s song in a strange land, you will be learning to sing it in divine sounds, such as are—
“Sung before the sapphire-colored throne
To him that sits, thereon—
With saintly shout, and solemn jubilee,
Where the bright seraphims, in burning row,
Their loud uplifted angel-trumpets blow,
And the cherubic host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires,
With those just spirits that wear victorious palms,
Hymns devout, and holy psalms
That we on earth undiscording voice
May rightly answer with melodious noise;
As once did, till disproportioned sin
Jarred against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O may we soon again renew that song,
And keep in tune with heaven, till God ere long
To his celestial concert us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endless morn of light?”
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